Personality Regions: The Friendly Midwest, the Left Coast and the Wicked (Possibly Irish) Witch of the Northeast

I find the geographic distribution of personality traits to be a very interesting topic. It can give us insights on so many things, like human evolution, culture, politics etc. As I blogged about before here, psychologist Peter Rentfrow has noted that America is split in two halves that score high and low in neuroticism. And German psychologist Martin Obschonka has identified a personality profile that is more common in the region called the Mountain States or Interior West that correlates with entrepreneurial activity. Last year, Rentfrow  dug deeper into this with an interesting study which didn’t get as much attention as it deserved, so here is a little something to correct that mistake. The study combines large samples of Big Five test data (a total sample size of almost 1.6 million) and use so-called cluster analysis to identify psychological regions within America. To get a bird’s eye view of his findings, let’s start by showing some maps of the regions in question,

cluster 1

The “friendly and conventional” (FC) region in the middle and southern part of the country is characterized as being more extraverted, agreeable and conscientious, a little more emotionally stable (low neuroticism), but also much less open to experience than the national average.

cluster 2

The “relaxed and creative” (RC) region in the western part of the country is characterized above all by being very open to experience and emotionally stable, but also introverted and slightly less agreeable than the average.

cluster 3

And finally, the third region, “temperamental and uninhibited” (TU), located in the northeastern part of the country, from Maine down to West Virginia, is characterized as very emotionally unstable and low in conscientiousness while being moderately introverted and open to experience. I wonder if that’s how they describe themselves on dating sites : )

I think most people can recognize that these differences exist to some degree. I’ve never been to America myself, but a friend of mine was there on a business trip and he noted how friendly and pleasant the Midwesterners were. But when he mentioned that he was heading to California they shook their heads and one of them said, “you won’t like it, it’s all Mickey Mouse.” But how much of this can be validated by society level measures?

The PESH – Political, Economic, Social and Health – Correlates

Rentfrow & Co used a variety of so-called PESH variables, and some general demographic variables. They then calculated correlations between them and state prototypicality, that is to say the measure of how well a state fits the personality profile of its region. And here is what they came up with,

PESH Friendly & Conventional Relaxed & Creative Temperamental & Uninhibited
Women -0.22 -0.16 0.39*
Non-Whites -0.26t 0.52* -0.10
Median Age -0.18 -0.17 0.44*
Votes Republican 0.50* -0.35* -0.42*
Mainline Protestant 0.43* -0.49* -0.24*
Wealth -0.42* 0.35* 0.28*
Human Capital -0.50* 0.47* 0.26t
Innovation -0.42* 0.45* 0.22
Social Capital 0.34* -0.37* -0.14
Social Tolerance -0.38* 0.54* 0.08
Violent Crime -0.17 0.24t 0.01
Residential Mobility 0.12 0.27t -0.38*
Well-being -0.23* 0.47* -0.06
Health Behavior -0.46* 0.56* 0.15

The correlations marked with a * are at the 5 percent level and those marked “t” is at ten percent. As you can see the PESH variables in many ways show what we would expect from the personality profile of the regions. As the maps suggest, these regions are also fairly concentric – the geographical center is also the most prototypical part of the region and then states become gradually less so the further out from the center they are located. And given that the PESH correlations are based on prototypicality we would expect these variables to follow the same pattern. But we would expect wrong…

Things Fall Apart; the Center Cannot Hold

For instance, the FC region has the strongest positive correlation to political conservatism. This region has a core consisting of six states: Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri and Wisconsin. Rentfrow measured political conservatism as the tendency to vote Republican, by using a combination of percentages of votes for George W Bush in 2004 and John McCain in 2008. Now, I’m no statistician but if this measure correlates 0.50* to how typical a state is of the FC region I would think the most typical states would be the most Republican and then gradually less so in a concentric fashion. But looking at the results (in the link above) for 2008 we find that Obama actually won three core states – Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota. And the rest of the core states were not nearly as big victories for McCain as they were in the more remote and less typical states in the South.

It’s also worth mentioning that voting results are most likely affected by the personal style and charisma of the candidates as well as specific issues that may be important in one election and region but not the other. Gallup measure of political conservatism (and liberalism) more directly by simply asking people. In the core states 36.2-42.9 percent identify as politically conservative, which is slightly above the national average of 36.9. And again the southern states that fit the profile less well score much higher, with an interval of 41.8-47.9 percent. So again, we find the same reversed pattern where the PESH variable is the strongest in the states that are less typical of the region.

Same thing with religiousness, which was measured with mainline Protestant affiliation, a rather narrow measure the source of which I haven’t been able to retrieve. But since Gallup also tracks Protestant affiliation it should make a fairly good substitute. Again, it turns out we have a weak center and a strong periphery: the six core states have an average of 55.5 percent Protestants while the southern states average at 75.2 percent. No overlap between the core and peripheral states.

Further, the economic wealth measure is a composite which I can’t reconstruct because they don’t explain how it’s defined, but it’s based on things like GRP, median household income per capita, poverty rates etc.  With a correlation between this wealth measure and state prototypicality of -0.42* the implication is that the FC region is poor. I didn’t find median household per capita but I looked at the similar measure per capita income for the same year (2007).  While the six core states were slightly below the national average we again find that the southern states are way lower, again with no overlap between the richest southern state and the poorest core state. Or we can look at poverty rates, here from 2008 which is around the same time Rentfrows data are from,

Poverty by State

As you can see, it’s the same thing again: the core states have fairly little poverty but the less typical southern states have plenty. Yet again, there is no overlap.

A Flyover Bias?

Whether intentional or not, I find this highly misleading. I’m not sure what makes Rentfrow do this but I have a suspicion it may be a liberal bias against the “flyover states.” This bias can be seen when comedian/pundit Bill Maher recently interviewed actor Bruce Dern and dismissed Nebraska as old and poor. As I’ve shown in a previous post, Nebraska is not at all poor – unlike California which has the highest poverty rate in the country – and its median age, according to US Census 2010, is 36.2 years, one year higher than that of California but still below the national average. Since some 95 percent of personality and social psychologists are liberal and plenty admit to a rather hostile bias against conservatives, this shouldn’t come as a big surprise.

The Real FC Region: The Friendly Midwest

But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. If we restrict this region to only the most typical states, the core, then we have something that looks homogeneous and concentric in terms of both personality, geography and society level correlates. They are east Midwesterners, they are indeed friendly and conventional, but in contrast to what the study suggested, they don’t stand out in any conspicuous way. They are moderately conservative and religious, they earn slightly less money than the average but they also have slightly less poverty and crime. And that’s pretty much what you’d expect from friendly and conventional people.

The RC Region: Creative and Relaxed, But Also Violent and Poor

It’s also easy to spot a similar but positive bias for the RC region. For instance, the correlation with violent crime is only slightly elevated at 0.24 at the ten percent level. But if we look at murder rates, we again see how peripheral and less typical states, like Idaho and Utah with really low murder rates, help keeping the region looking relatively peaceful. But of the most typical core states, California, Oregon, Nevada and Arizona, only Oregon is below average.

The correlation to wealth at 0.35* looks good and in line with what you might associate with a modern and open-minded region. As I mentioned above, the measure of wealth is complex and not explained in the article so again I looked at per capita income for 2007 (the year his index is based on) from the US Census. The core states are in the range 33K-41.6K dollars with an average of 37.5K, slightly below the national average of 38.6K, (although slightly above the FC core of 36K). The peripheral states have smaller incomes. I’ve already shown the poverty map above and that doesn’t help either. Somehow Rentfrow manages to make this region look wealthy but it seems to be an artifact of his calculations and perhaps wishful thinking.

The Real RC Region: The Left Coast

Again, this is not to say that the Relaxed & Creative region doesn’t exist, but like the FC region, it would become more homogeneous and meaningful if limited to a smaller area, in this case the coastal states. This is not just a matter of bias, but also how these calculations are made. I’m no statistician but Utah, although in the periphery is clearly marked on the map above as part of this region even though it is slightly above average in extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness while slightly lower in openness. It seems to fit this region by virtue of low neuroticism alone. And half the country is low in neuroticism. Have a look for yourselves at the eight main states of this region, traits listed in the order extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness,

Oregon          30.9, 59.1, 45.8, 39.5, 58.8

Washington   30.6, 55.8, 45.0, 36.9, 56.6

California       51.4, 49.0, 43.2, 39.1, 65.0

Arizona          50.6, 46.6, 58.4, 38.1, 54.7

Nevada          46.4, 31.8, 55.8, 44.0, 61.3

New Mexico    32.4, 45.4, 58.5, 51.6, 62.0

Idaho             40.7, 52.9, 44.5, 44.2, 44.7

Utah               55.8, 69.4, 54.5, 30.4, 47.7

As you can see, Oregon and Washington are virtually identical, while California fits fairly well, even though the state is now just above average in extraversion, possibly due to migration. This would make a region of low to average extraversion, average to high agreeableness, low conscientiousness, low neuroticism and high openness. There may of course exist other personality regions with interesting correlates too, but right now I’m going with what Rentfrow generated. If we map the modified FC and RC regions along with the original TU region on a map of social and economic conservatism and liberalism created by statistician Andrew Gelman we see how these states stick together pretty good,


The Wicked Witch of the Northeast

When I saw how well this region fits into Gelman’s map I had a suspicion that Rentfrow got it right. But let’s check some correlates anyway. The biggest correlations are those of higher  median age and a larger female population. This is fairly easy to check since this region is practically identical to what the US Census Bureau defines as the Northeast Region. The personality version of the region has a core area consisting of Pennsylvania and Delaware in the south and every state further north up to Maine. Peripheral and less typical states are Maryland, Ohio, West Virginia and the more remotely located state of Texas. According to the Census 2010, their Northeast Region has the highest median age (39.2 years) and the lowest sex ratio (94.5 men per 100 women). The average of the core states is 95.0 and for the peripheral states it is 96.1, so that looks nice and concentric. In case you wonder about the populous states of New York and Texas, I haven’t weighted anything but their averages are 93.8 and 98.4 so that would confirm the pattern even more. As for median age, it’s a similar picture with a core average of exactly 40 years while and a peripheral average of 37.9 years.

Finally, the last big correlate, political view, again I use Gallup’s record on how many identify as politically conservative rather than the presidential elections of 2004 and 2008 for the reasons I stated above. In the core states there is an average of 31.3 percent who think of themselves as politically conservative, well below the national average of 36.8, and equally important, below the average of 38.0 for the peripheral states.

Still, these correlates are pretty neutral. Violent crime is less flattering so maybe the zero correlation to this personality region is kept low by some tricky calculations as in the RC region? A quick look at the murder stats show that the core states have 3.9 murders per 100K people as compared to the periphery which has 4.7, identical to the national average. That’s the reverse of what we’d expect but it’s only one metric that varies over time so all in all, this region looks like it makes some sense. And there is no suspicion of bias.

All in All, a Brave Effort

While I’ve been whining a lot about the liberal bias in this study, I still think this is a bold step in the right direction. After all, all behavioral traits are highly heritable so research about these regions and their behavioral correlates can only be described as human biodiversity research. And we don’t see too much of that, unless it’s unintentional. It would have been nice if Rentfrow had shown how racial/ethnic groups differ since most of the samples had that information. Such differences could explain, at least to some degree, why we have these regions. When you see the high levels of neuroticism in the Northeast, it’s hard not to think of the Irish who are plenty in that region. It would also have been great if they had measured dark traits too – I mean, this is America we are talking about : )

But I’ll get back to the issue on how these regions came to be in a later post. Right now I just wanted to introduce them – and of course to show what they really look like : )

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41 Responses to Personality Regions: The Friendly Midwest, the Left Coast and the Wicked (Possibly Irish) Witch of the Northeast

  1. Jack Saunsea says:

    Very interesting article and information you’ve written here. I was raised in the Midwest but have spent extensive time up and down the west coast. I actually found LA to be some of the friendliest people. To me, the Midwestern people (if I’m going to generalize here), are more friendly on the exterior, but because of the lack in “openness to new experience” that friendliness seems to me to lack depth. Whereas; on the west coast, especially as I’ve traveled north into Northern California, Oregon, and Seattle, there is a bit of an exterior to break through, but once you do the friendliness seemed more genuine. At least in my experience.

  2. Staffan says:


    The word “friendly” here means sociable and agreeable. With extraverts you don’t see the whole person, only the persona. A lot of extraverts even identify with their exterior and are bit more shallow that way. But more than that it’s a way of communicating with other people.

    I think what you view as depth of openness is really introversion, the northern part of the coast is more introverted but not higher in openness.The introverted way of communicating is being more personal and invested. Which, on the average, makes it more rewarding to fraternize with introverts. Unless there is a conflict…

  3. JayMan says:

    Great post! Excellent analysis:

    My commentary:

    1. I’d imagine that, just when personality is compared across nations, comparing personality across regions suffers problem thanks to self-report. You’re not necessarily getting people’s actual qualities; you’re getting their impression of themselves, which can be spoiled by context (especially where as there seems to be region differences).

    2. Needless to say, there’s the issue of racial confounding, especially across the Old South and the Southwest.

    3. “It’s also worth mentioning that voting results are most likely affected by the personal style and charisma of the candidates as well as specific issues that may be important in one election and region but not the other. Gallup measure of political conservatism (and liberalism) more directly by simply asking people.”

    I’d argue that voting behavior (particularly in national elections) is a more reliable gauge of political inclination than what people say. The reason? There’s a predictable pattern to how self-professed political alignment and actual behavior differs. Audacious Epigone found that liberals in Red States voted conservative more than liberals in blue states, and similarly for self-described conservatives. Indeed, there was a ~0.80 correlation between how the state voted as a whole and how self-described liberals and conservatives voted for their respective candidates.

    So I’d say that relationship perchant for conservativism in the “Friendly & Conventional” zone doesn’t exist.

    Religiosity, on the other hand may be different.

    4. There is one reliable correlate with the “Friendly & Conventional” region: Germans!

    5. For that matter, there is one correlate with the “Temperamental & Uninhibited” Northeast: Irish! Temperamental & Uninhibited – doesn’t that sound like an Irishman?

    I think that’s generally your pattern:
    Temperamental & Uninhibited = Irish (Italian too)
    Friendly & Conservative = German (Scandinavian too)
    Relaxed & Creative = Left Coast loner hippies

    As well, I covered a fair bit of this (with maps, especially associated with the above) here:

    Rural White Liberals – a Key to Understanding the Political Divide | JayMan’s Blog

    • Staffan says:


      It’s true that comparing nations with self-report is problematic. A big international study in 2005 has shown Italians to be more introverted than the Japanese, although they did found some overall correlations to society level measures as well.. The best way around it is probably using measures with more biological correlates, like those of Eysenck and Cloninger. Regional differences within a country should be less problematic. For instance, small islands have been found to have introverted and conscientious inhabitants which has some validity in form of fewer 7r alleles (linked to sensation seeking and similar traits).

      Regarding political attitude, I think voting reflects economic conservatism and self-report reflects social conservatism. Overall, these dimensions appear correlated and the Midwest (or the eastern part of it) is a little bit high on both these.

      Yes, there are definitely racial and ethnic components in this, as not discussed by Rentfrow. The South isn’t part of any distinct personality region, possibly due to differences between Blacks and Whites. The Friendly & Conventional have a lot of German and Scandinavian ancestry. The Northeast has a lot of people with ancestry outside the Hajnal line – the Irish and Italians (most from southern Italy). I seem to fit this profile the best. As hbd chick would say – ruh roh!

      The Left Coast on the other hand feels like it might be something more like an intentional community, people. It’s interesting to note that California is more extraverted now as compared to earlier samples but still high in openness. This is in line with research showing immigrants to the West to be extraverted and open. It also appears – if I’m to guess – that this region continues into British Columbia, at least to the Vancouver area.

  4. mina says:

    Very interesting!

  5. Gottlieb says:

    Irish only??
    American-jews dominate the Yankeedom more intensively than other american regions and i believe (always believe, i’m not certain about anything) when a specific ethnic group dominate a region, this impose direct or indirectly your way of life. More or less, irish people to seems have more higher propension to develop psychosis, exactly equal ashkenazis.
    Irish are more inbreed is not true?
    Psychosis also relate to tribalism, when people are very worry about bio-constructions. A one trait or phenotype combination is ”used” by different functions, the same psychosis that create the conformity in very inbred groups, is responsible to make people more nonconformist. Depend of the combination like a cake recipe. One trait is not the unique key to create a specific behavior and the most important, today i think that is not there a general rule that impossibilite that ”discrepant” traits could combine but the reproduction patterns, when similar people marry, maintaned these fake landscape of the human interactions to seems like a reality of the facts. If the sky in Earth is ”blue” or gradant, is not mean that all the skys in other habitable planets will be the same thing.
    So, because similar people mate yourselves, to seems there a finite pattern but all of personality combinations are possibles, with geographic isolation and patience. Unfortunatelly, the natural extremist nature of the human beings turn this patterns problematic, because the evolution is a growing of this traits selected and result in competition, after all, why the populations selected your specific traits?? to compete.

    • JayMan says:


      Jews only make up a few percent of the population of any U.S. state, including those in the Northeast. They barely register here.

      • Gottlieb says:

        @ Jayman,
        Yes, soo??
        Look to Parsis, think in thousand hundreds of parsis among one and half billion indians.
        Majority of people are cultural followers, you see, Staffan see, i can see it. Ashkenazi jews are brilliant,energic in all societies when they are. To most important activities of the human beings, like cultural constructions, few and brilliant people is enough.
        ”Yankedoom” is one of the most historically anglo-divided regions of America, the most demographically populated areas like New York city, have more than 10% of jews, but look to italians, they are so populous in NY than jews. So, sometimes, the oiconomic power is most important than demographics.
        Ashkenazi jews have extremely similarities than cultural builders euro-caucasian castes, but without technical subclasses. Ashkenazi is like if english creative castes separated by other cognitive specific classes and pass to procreate ‘inbreed’.
        Some few jews live in Tzarist Russia but they were overwhelmingly represent in communist intelligentzia. The difference of the ashkenazis than others is that they are specially THE creative castes, they are brains but not a body to build your own civilization. The evolution of the species beggin in feets and ”finish” to brain (…). Ashkenazi jews, or many them, already are in ”brain level”.
        In Yankedoom we have the older-white americans in New England, french-canadians in Maine and neighborhood.
        In New York state we have some older european melting pot but with considerably presence of american-jews. In Yankedoom is not there a predominance of one type (i think) and even when we have the ethno-demographic predominance it will be like 30%, is not like a city in middle american when 90% are teuto-celtics.

  6. Staffan says:

    @JayMan and Gottlieb,

    According to Wikipedia New York (state) has 9 percent Jews, New Jersey 5.5, Massachusetts 4.4, Pennsylvania 2.7. A weighted mean would probably land above 5 percent even with states like Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

    So they alone aren’t so much but together with the Irish, Italian they make up a pretty hefty presence of people outside the Hajnal Line. And we know these groups have been prominent in organized crime, something clearly linked to clannishness,

    So it’s possible that their personality profile has something to do with clannishness. But Maine fits the profile too so there must be other things at play here as wel – like what kind of person emigrates and what immigrants settle in what location. That pioneer hypothesis of yours (or is it Steven Sailer’s?) fits into how extraverts settled the farmland. People often assume extraverts would flock to the big cities…

    • Gottlieb says:

      I have a weird theory about clanishness of the ashkenazi jews.
      Ashkenazis are double-times predisposes to clan. The first, is obvious result of the endogamy historical patterns but the second would be other factor and my idea is the laterality or ”handedness” patterns. I got read some works about the presence of lefties and ambidexterous people in ashkenazis, but not in other jewish groups. The ”universal” distribution of this traits is 90% of right handed people and 10% of left handed ones. But, if ashkenazis are overwhelmingly represent in ”deviant ” sexual behaviors, neurodiverse conditions and other non-common phenotypes, so, to seems ‘obvious’ there more ”genetics of autism” here. I also read but very superficially that in nomadic peoples some traits like left handedness is more common AND adhd genes. Is know the relation between adhd and non-right handedness. If you are always change of place you need to have more diversity to have quickly answers.

      • Staffan says:

        I think you’re overstating this Ashkenazi thing. Sure, they may have their quirks, but overall it seems most of what distinguishes them from other people can be explained by having higher intelligence. This idea of cultural dominance doesn’t accord with the fact that they had nothing to do with the creation of Enlightenment. As hbd chick has pointed out, this was a project of the English and other outbreeders. That’s where you find the anomaly.

  7. Gottlieb says:

    Your explanation to it is very superficial, sorry. Yes, the liberalism in their early years and centuries was a northern euro-caucasian ”invention” or cultural-evolution and we can to see it when look to Scandinavia or Britain but is a fact that ashkenazi jews have greater influence today, inclusive is possible to say that XX century was a jewish century, there a book with this title.
    But i don’t see any barrier prevent ashkenazi jews, the ”not original iluminists” to engage today in liberal politics or culture, in fact they are. How i say in other post, the ”new left” is a product of ”Frankfurt School”, listen, i don’t talk about ”factoids” but facts, easily proved.
    Deny this fact and the historical ashkenazi influence and their brilliantism is not the smart way to understand it.
    What Bruce Charlton to say, ”liberalism is a non-adaptative way of life” but because the gradual period of individual liberties or cultural changes was very much more quickly than biological changes and adaptations. And yes, i strong believe that liberalism fit perfectly with ashkenazi nature, immigration (or nomadism), neutral morality and acceptance of ”deviant” behavior or weirdness.
    You is a professional of mental health and know who there overrepresentation of lefties and ambidexterous in ”outsiders”.
    Accept this fact and analyse ”my theory” is not a problem, because i aim at the debate with more interesting subjects.
    How i say to Jayman, beyond this facts about higher range of intelligence phenotypes, also we have the fact majority of the people do not create cultures, because they are cultural followers, like ”magic flute”. Is need in civilization the technical basis of people without creative gifts to maintened it.
    The ”fight” among ”culture-builders” is not ”fight among entire populations” but few subgroups. The majority of jews are not cultural builders, like majority of euro-caucasians are not, but inside the ashkenazi ethnicity there overrepresentation of the creative types and yes, the ashkenazi-creatives tend also to be specialized ones. The double of, whatever, 4% of creatives in euro-populations to 8% in ashkenazi, part of idea that creative ones are the only cultural-builders in human societies, show us that demographic preponderance is less important than cognitive quality.

    • Staffan says:

      “But i don’t see any barrier prevent ashkenazi jews, the ”not original iluminists” to engage today in liberal politics or culture, in fact they are.”

      That’s just the thing – they take part in things that are already in place. But that’s intelligence, not creativity. If we look back through history we’ve had culturally innovative eras prior to the Enlightenment, like that of ancient Greece and the Renaissance – not Jewish, but there is again some evidence of outbreeding.

      What you’re theory needs is a Jewish Plato, Mozart, Shakespeare, Da Vinci, Nikola Tesla etc. If you look at technological innovation, Sweden is extremely creative for such a small country. And there are hardly any Jews here at all. I’m not trying to put the Jews down, I’m just saying they act pretty much like you would expect from a highly intelligent but not conspicuously creative people.

      • Gottlieb says:

        Jews are very specialized smart and yes, they have your geniuses but they will be jewish-style geniuses, because the propose of the evolution of the ashkenazis follow a different demands and answers in their co-evolutive environment with (and than) euro-caucasians.
        The creativity of the ashkenazis is very specific and different than euro-caucasian populations. They are masters in your own game like euros are masters in many ways of creativity, jews are very good in some ways, euros are good in the most because your very greater population and variability, this a difference.
        I have some theories about the influence of left handedness and ashkenazi profile phenotype, beyond the socio-cultural issues. Lefties tend to be more very specialized in specific capacities, in other words, (we) they are more hard divided in different cognitive subgroups. We have more autistic types and more ”border-autistics”, part of the assumption that in families with more left handed people are more chances to have more autistics because the same mechanisms create the left handedness phenotypes also create the autistic phenotypes.
        This explain many things how the staggered researches about intelligence and handedness, the strong division of phenotypes in lefties and ambis than righties, after all, lefthandedness is a result of non-righthandedness genetic predominance, is aleatory. Most lefties have greater difference among your iq scores, ashkenazi have greater difference among verbal and performance.

  8. Matt says:

    It seems like the different personality styles in the Northeast and Centre fit mostly with urbanisation to be honest. Rural is friendly and conventional and urban is distant / antagonistic and freewheeling.

    My impression would be rural Irish seem more friendly and conventional than German or Germanic city dwellers should be (i.e. people of the Irish countryside would have be more conventional and traditional than the people of Stockholm or Berlin). City people generally seem industrious, but not particularly self controlled and orderly, rather isolated, and tend towards being fractious and open.

    Not really due to any “learned” environment of upbringing, but just because that’s how their lifestyle conditions them to be. Being one way works in the city, being another way works in the country. Or it could reflect different response bias – city people value being a tough hostile, competitor in the economic urban jungle, one who is on the look out for new angles, whereas rural people don’t care about this stuff so much.

    City level data would help disambiguate this explanation.

  9. Staffan says:

    Some of it is a matter of cities versus countryside. But it’s hardly conditioned by the environments. These traits are visible at a very early age and change very little over the lifespan. More likely, people choose environments that they like, or think they will like.

    And there must be other factors too since there are many states that don’t fit the pattern you suggest. The Northeast is very urbanized but it still has some core states that are not – Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire. And lots of very urbanized states are not in this region – California, Florida, Arizona, Utah.

    City level data would be good but when you look at California with 95 percent urban population, the city profile must be very similar to the state profile. But I’ll have a look and see if I can find any county level data.

  10. Matt says:

    “These traits are visible at a very early age and change very little over the lifespan.” Underlying personality probably doesn’t change very much, but these are self report and how people assess their personality seems more in doubt to me.

    People could mistake behavior they engage in due to their environment for their underlying personality (in a violent environment where one has to be violent to survive, they might think of themselves as violent people, etc.) or over emphasize traits which are locally valued (or locally free of stigma). Heritability and stability in personality traits can generally only be determined “in an environment” without a real model that we can make true inferences from (you’ve talked about the drawbacks of correlational studies before and cross country personality comparisons). So I’m agnostic. Self sorting as you describe seems pretty plausible anyway.

    True, it’s not a perfect relationship – . Part of that might be some bleedover from proximity to this long term urbanized region and how urbanized that part of the USA it has been for as long as it has. I wouldn’t attribute the whole of the cluster structure to it.

    Urbanization seems like a good tack in part because it has been theorized and tested (hopefully without too much confirmation bias) to have a fairly positive stable relationship to worsening mental pathology, within country, which fits with a relationship to more neurotic, disagreeable, introverted personality types.

    • Gottlieb says:

      Some people are more prone to engage to violent behavior without environment pressures to this, so, is probably that some people who adapt your behavior to the environment pressures is in true characterized by ”fluid or non-developed personality” (some sociopath personality here). In fact, in a environment like example, favelas in Rio de Janeiro, is not, ”people adapt to be violent” but ” people who are more predisposed to be violent and impulsive and low iq, live in favelas”. Yes, i also believe in adaptability of the human beings and in some types of humans who are more adaptative, like i said above my comment, but also have people who are not ”adaptable” and will act of the same way in any circunstances.
      Now, is interesting estimate the proportion this types among human populations. I see majority of people who are religious, use the religion with self-moral control and not believe truly but by many subjective reasons and non-direct. There a probability that majority of human beings to be little sociopath and it to be related with the subjectivity (and unconscious hypocrisy) of the culture and morality.

      • Staffan says:

        It does seem like some are more flexible in their behavior than others, even though the underlying personality stays the same. Psychiatrist agree that antisocial individuals are extremely rigid and never change or learn from experience. People who score high on openness are probably a little more flexible, although most of what they think of as their flexibility is airy fairy fads that don’t constitute any profound change.

  11. Staffan says:

    All research suggest that personality, as measured with self-report tests vary somewhat for children but become increasingly stable through early adulthood. This, by the way, should not be interpreted as the “formative years” since traits tend to become increasingly heritable with increasing age. More like people stray a little and then get reeled in by the genes.

    So there is stability over age and different ages will mean very different social environments. But most people will stay in their own country and culture and I don’t think there is much research on that. Western cultures are known to self-enhance, view themselves more favorably than East Asians do. When you look at international comparisons this effect is probably the reason why Australians think of themselves as more conscientious than the Japanese think of themselves.

    Yes, city dwellers have poorer mental health it seems. There doesn’t seem to be much signs of schizophrenia before urbanization, although the underlying type of personality most likely existed. Introversion and neuroticism is linked to poorer mental health, although I suspect self-sorting here too since we haven’t seen a big increase in something like schizophrenia, it seems to have popped up in the modern environment but with a prevalence around one percent or a little less.

    Another possible indication of stability over environments is that California has become more extraverted, perhaps due to immigration. This would mean that the Mexicans retain their extraversion when moving there.

  12. Gottlieb says:

    i dislike with you when you say ”introverts have poorer mental health” (tend to be). Even when we are talking about subjective psychopathologies like ”asperger or high functioning autism”, first, there many environmental factors that cause these impression, fake impression who they are ”mental disable” when you tell me and i believe completely that aspies and high functioning austistics (tend to be) have very special personality traits like honesty and genuine kindness.
    Second, my case, before of the many years of indirect and unconscious opression of my family against me (because i’m shy and stutter ,practically i no have voice during 17 years of my life in my own home) i conclude that i’m the most sane here, after to do many reflexions about myself i go a funny conclusion. I’m not have any mental ‘problem’. I’m the most conscious, agreeable, diplomatic in my house but to be a some high level that pass the impression that i’m disable AND they abuse this. Shy people, how i say it to you, are so conscious that thinking obsessively to be agreeable with the others. I really don’t can to see it like a ”mental poorer”. But, analyse this by darwinian perspective, i can see the introversion like a ”problematic” because it is less efficient to procreation. But, think like this is like think like a animal. The human beings evolved to be ”non-animals”. Is proved, introverts make better societies than extroverts but is important have the two groups to make a perfect society.
    But about my conclusion about myself, is very possible that majority of psychiatric diagnose me like ”schizotypical”, ”border-autistic”, ”bipolar”, ”borderline”. Is interesting because i have a desire to be like this ”types”, very different than ”average Zé” here but i’m not ”mad”.
    Psychology like i always will to say, have many and structural problems about ”criteria” to ”diagnosis”. Yes, some people are really mental disable, but many other people are not, even when they exhibit similar traits. In portuguese we called this ”mental illnesses” or ”psychopathologies” of this way ”TRANSTORNO MENTAL” (nuisance??)
    Is exactly like i think about this conditions, when the water of cup overflows, you not have only some intelectual obsessions, you live this obsessions, more or less.
    If extremely extrovert people here have more mental health than me, so, i can now accept the sentence ”humans are only animals” But i think that all mutations are ‘errors’, the perfection is not the friction, is the ”silence” of the universe, and we are deviant by birth.

  13. Staffan says:


    I’m only using psychiatric terms like schizophrenia because they correspond to certain personality traits, I don’t think of them as mental illness – I agree with Thomas Szasz (one of the Ashkenazim by the way) who claimed that the only reasonable criteria for mental illness is organic failure. To me, this is all personality. Real mental illness is stuff like Alzheimer’s.

    • Gottlieb says:

      Yes, i think like that. But i think if this ”psychiatric terms” are wrong so, we should change our words because is lost of time and affect the real sensible people like ”autistics”, ”schizophrenics” (i hate this word or derivatives).
      I think interesting and pathetic if i will to psychiatric and i to say
      ”i want go in the streets with ”woman clothing, simply because i want, is funny, is interesting, is social-experimentalist” but the psychiatric will ”diagnose” me like ”sexual disorder” or ” personality disorder”. Is completely stupid.
      I take this idea of my cousin who is very smart, he is 16’s. He believe that gender is a social construction (i do, is very leftoid thought but all thoughts have its background true). Well, all created by humans is a social or human construction, the reality is.

      • Staffan says:

        I don’t like the terminology either but it’s how language works. I can’t communicate other than by conventions. I think it would be great if we could keep the term schizophrenia but make people understand that it’s not a disease. But that’s going to take a long time…

        Although as you suggest, the left is de-pathologizing “their” sexual disorders but don’t mind keeping others.

  14. Gottlieb says:

    because the leftoid people is like a conservative people, both are ”ideologic tribes”. Both are rights but the left is MORE right than conservatives specially in this case. But both are authoritary because to impose a ideology is need cohesion, but is not imperative to impose the true or wisdom because are natural. When a leftoid talk about de-pathologization of the deviant and non-reproductive behaviors they in true to be talk about yourselves and your nature, exactly when a conservative talk about the pathologization, is ying yang, like many people already said.
    They are right because they live your own natures but they are wrong because this way to live is a degree of inconscience and are very social-subjective.
    Believe that clothing does not speak anything about my personality, because in a perfect world, the personality is a infinite combinations of personas and i’m not the same thing what i’m 3 hours ago and logically speaking, in a perfect world, is not there any natural rule that impossibilite us to change our clothing completely at weeks, but is a fact that clothing is like ”social and hierarchical mark” and to adapt this landscape is need use your body-symbologies.
    Well, to live your nature is a happiness accord Aristoteles or Plato (maybe, any homoerotic greek thinker) but when we to see the world today, we see that ”to live own nature” is not the supreme wisdom, well, at least my perspective.
    Life is dinamic and our personality is at same time limited, static but fluid, limited because we have a centralized spectra and static because this not change dramatically during our lives but we are fluid because in all everyday time we need adapt to environment and this mean change the center of our personality.

  15. […] Personality Regions: The Friendly Midwest, the Left Coast and the Wicked (Possibly Irish) Witch of t… – from staffan. […]

  16. Erwin says:

    Hi Staffan,
    Do you know this paper? “Sex Differences in Variability in
    Personality: A Study in Four Samples” Peter Borkenau et al.

  17. Erwin says:

    Maybe I should have searched your blog first: Found your post about a similar study from P. Borkenau:

    • Staffan says:

      Thanks. It seems to be an update of the same project. Unfortunately I don’t have a fulltext link. I have it on my computer but then there is the matter of copyright. I’ve long suspected this since personality disorders are so common in men, and those disorders are really just extreme personalities, if we use a terminology in accordance with the evidence.

      Can’t believe it was just a year ago I referred to HBDers as “those Human Biodiversity buffs.” : )

      • panjoomby says:

        evidence is a b*tch, dude :) biological reality is a harsh mistress. yikes – i sound like heartiste! i was a leftist Gould worshipper then did a dissertation that asked if tests predicted equally accurately for different groups & thus began learning the reality of HBD (it’s not what i wanted to be true & not the side i wanted to be defending, but you gotta go with reality). you’re superb at maintaining equanimity & a healthy intellectual curiosity – rather than getting upset at how the world does back flips to avoid taboo knowledge!
        PS – liked that your “HBD buffs” linked to JayMan & HBDchick:)

  18. Staffan says:


    I used to be a leftist too, I still count myself as an economic leftist in the sense that I believe a good society needs to provide some basic stuff for all its citizens, even if some fail to contribute. But it should be done without any false sense of entitlement. We need to stop making people believe the world owes them. It’s the whole guilt issue…

    Going with reality, yes indeed : ) That’s the thing I like the most about the HBDers, that there is a completely genuine (and perhaps aspergery) interest in the truth. And I think most liberals have some of that interest too, so they can be influenced. I suspect a lot – perhaps the majority – of those interested in HBD are former liberals. In contrast, many conservatives, who may feel validated by HBD, don’t have this quality. Historically, they’ve always looked to religion, tradition and authorities for answers.

  19. KarenEllis says:

    Truly fascinating and I am glad I stopped by, Staffan!

    • Staffan says:

      Glad you liked it.

      Those are some spooky pictures you’ve got of post-olympic Soochi. I wonder if they pack it all up and move it to the next Potemkin project, like a Hell on Wheels : )

  20. Per capita income is a tough statistic to use when comparing states because of the enormous variances in cost-of-living indices between them. Several years ago, Steve Sailer put together a rough estimate on monetary standard-of-living by state, and while it’s certainly not perfect, it’s clear that higher per capita income doesn’t necessarily equate to higher real purchasing power, especially when the differences are in the couple of thousands of dollars per year.

    The friendly and conventional region is probably the most affluent, materially, in the country (it’s also, excepting old New England, the whitest, so that shouldn’t be too surprising).

    • Staffan says:


      Not too devastating to my point but clearly something to think of and possibly update.

      Your link is to an article in NYT, however, on how the word “homosexual” is now offensive. Such an obvious manipulation that people of some minorities seem to engage in – jump through my hoop or be branded a bigot. That kind of makes bigot sound like a good thing, someone with integrity.

      • Staffan,

        Damnit, apologies for the sloppiness. Here’s what I was going for.

      • Staffan says:

        Thanks. I’ll have a look. The Midwest does look very good, especially for being so conventional and uncreative. Perhaps they have struck a good balance between creativity and persistence. It’s also a region with high intelligence. Perhaps the smart set theory is wrong; California is not doing so well these days. I’m thinking the IQ of the common man sets the tone and makes a country of region use its full potential.

        Since these figures are pre-recession they probably need some adjustment – Michigan might not be doing so well and California is probably even lower on the ranking today. But I’m guessing that the overall pattern is the same.

    • JayMan says:

      There’s also this:

      which I references here, which may be helpful.

      In terms of effective purchasing power, the most well-off area is a broad swath through the Great Plains and the Western Midwest. Much of it is actually pretty empty however.

      The Friendly & Conventional and the Relaxed & Creative regions do appear to come out here, to an extent. But broadly genetic effects (ethnic origin and founder effects in the case of the Left Coast) appears to be a better fit.

  21. […] all sorts of problems with personality data, especially for making cross-cultural comparisons. See Staffan’s discussion of the matter. One American nation is conspicuously apparent in these data, and that is the Left Coast. It fits […]

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